From Depressed to Magnetic
Research shows you probably can. Although transcranial magnetic stimulation sounds like the harebrained concoction of a supervillain scientist, it’s a surprisingly simple and non-invasive treatment that was approved for depression in 2008 and has been gaining steam ever since. It works by applying strong magnetic pulses to the brain’s mood centers, which, if you’re depressed, are underactive. The electromagnetic field stimulates certain neurons to fire, which changes your mood.
A typical TMS treatment will last one hour and be repeated for five straight days for a month. But now, a new study out of Alfred Hospital in Melbourne, Australia has found that with three treatments per day, the process can be sped up. In its pilot studies, the accelerated TMS program achieved the same results in three days as the more prolonged, once-daily treatment achieved in a month. This means TMS can be used as an emergency lifesaving measure for patients who are suicidal or refuse to eat or drink.
For years, the go-to for ultra-fast-acting depression treatment was electro-convulsive therapy, or ECT. It’s easy to see why this was a last resort for many patients. The reality of ECT is not as horrific as the classic scene One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest or the end of Requiem for a Dream but it can sometimes cause seizures and memory loss. By contrast, magnet-based treatments are much less invasive than ECT and are conducted while the patient is wide awake.
TMS is also promising for the 20-40% of patients who don’t respond to antidepressants—and those who don’t want to take them. Although Prozac, Zoloft and the rest aren’t half as scary as the horror stories that have cropped up around them (they don’t turn people into emotionless zombies, trust me), they do come with some risks and side effects. And many people, especially addicts, avoid chemical treatments whenever possible. Even though SSRIs don’t get you high, aren’t addictive, and are accepted as part of 12-step sobriety, many addicts still don’t feel comfortable popping a pill every night.
No Cutting Costs with Cutting Edge
The promise of TMS suggests that mental health revolution may not come in the form of a pill. But don’t try this at home with your fridge magnets. TMS requires highly specialized equipment and treatment can run from $7,000-$10,000. That could sure buy a lot of Prozac. However, some insurers do cover TMS, which is currently being tested for other issues such as anxiety, strokes, Parkinson’s and PTSD. It’s already shown some promise in treating migraines, too. My conclusion? Bill Nye was right: science rules.
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